Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.
August 24 1759 to July 29 1833
Perhaps the greatest force for the ending of slavery in Parliament in the British Empire. He entered politics at the age of twenty and worked there for over 45 years. His work with Thomas Clarkson, a partnership, saw to the end of the horrible institution.
His father was a wealthy merchant. His grandfather had twice been the mayor of Hull. He was sickly as a child and for a time was sent to board with a prosperous uncle. They began to allow him to explore evangelical Christianity and his mother, very Church of England, brought him home. At 17 he went to St. John’s College Cambridge, but he was also independently wealthy at this time. Hard to imagine, but Wilberforce partied more than he studied. Here he made the friendship of William Pitt the Younger.
Pitt convinced him to stand for Kingston upon Hill and spending £8,000 he won. He resolved to be a no party man, though he was inconsistent, he did not ally with either party. But still he was a member of the Ton now, and he did go to many social parties. Prinny said he would go anywhere to hear Wilberforce sing. William was known to be described as the wittiest man in England. In 1784 Wilberforce stood and won Yorkshire.
In 1784 Wilberforce went on his Grand Tour. While on it, he began to read the bible and give over his former partying ways. Puritan religious thoughts were not the norm, but the exact opposite of it. One expected your late Georgian member of the Ton to being a spendthrift gadabout. Wilberforce had been that and now had switched completely around. Now his reconstituted conscience ruled and he became that advocate for reform that was sorely needed.
From the 1500s, the British had been involved in the slave trade. It was very lucrative and many fortunes were founded on it. Many peoples livelihoods were based on it. In 1787 at a dinner on May 12th it was agreed that Wilberforce would lead the movement in Parliament to abolish Slavery and the Slave Trade. The first meeting of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade took place 10 days later. Wilberforce actually did not join the committee officially until 1791.
There was a lot of ground work in getting the Slave Trade made illegal. First were motions to condemn the trade. Then actual bills to be passed to outlaw it. The first bills failed to pass. The first bill in April of 1791 was introduced to Parliament with a four hour speech by Wilberforce. With the French Revolution and the terror also taking place at the same time, Wilberforce was thought to be a Jacobin agitator by some.
The war with France took precedence during this period as well. And though attempts were made to end the Slave Trade, the war with France made passage of such a law, impossible. Clarkson’s health failed for a time and he retired. The Committee stopped to meet, and even Wilberforce took his eye from his great task. In April 1797 he met Barbara Ann Spooner and they were married rather quickly in May. They had six children in ten years.
In 1804, Clarkson returned and the Society began to meet again. Pitt died in 1806 and now Wilberforce worked more with the Whigs (DWW-The Tories though were about to take over the government for a long time) Now A bill was proposed that the Slave Trade needed to be curtailed in the colonies so it could not aid the French. It became law on May 23rd 1806. The general election of 1806 made slavery an issue and more abolitionists were elected MPs. 15 years since the first bill had been put before Parliament. In early 1807 the bill to abolish the Slave Trade in the Empire finally passed and was made law. Slavery still existed but it was the most significant step to stop slavery yet taken.
As much as he was desperate to end Slavery, Wilberforce did not carry that out with other liberal ideals. He was against women organizing to vote. Not until 1813 did he believe in Catholic emancipation. In 1812, never having been truly healthy, he resigned his Yorkshire seat and took up for Bramber in Sussex, a pocket borough. Over the next few years he continued to urge for the end of slavery. He also tried to mediate between King George IV (once Wilberforce’s admirer when he sang) and Caroline of Brunswick who sought to be recognized as queen.
In the 1820s he declined a peerage because of his poor health. He also finally resigned his seat in Parliament. A venture into farming in 1830 cost him a great deal of money and he had little income and had to retrench. His health still failing, the government did introduce a bill for the Abolition of Slavery. It looked like it would pass, and yet Wilberforce died one month before it finally did pass.
He is buried now in Westminster Abbey, near his friend Pitt. He wanted to be buried near his daughter and sister in Stoke Newington, but both sides of the Houses of Parliament urged he be given this national recognition.
Previous Notables (Click to see the Blog):
There will be many other notables coming, a full and changing list can be found here on the blog as I keep adding to it. The list so far is:
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
John Phillip Kemble
Wellington (the Military man)
General Banastre Tarleton
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Sir Marc Brunel
Marquis of Stafford George Leveson-Gower
Paul III Anton, Prince Esterházy
Thomas Egerton, 2nd Earl of Wilton
Henry Herbert Southey
Matthew Gregory Lewis
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley
Sir Walter Scott
Madame de Stael
Sir Harry Smith
Juana Maria de Los Dolores de Leon (Lady Smith)
Duke of Argyll, George William Campbell (1766-1839)
Lord Barrymore, Richard Barry (1769-1794)
Lord Bedford, Francis Russell (1765-1802)
Mr. G. Dawson Damer (1788-1856)
Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish (1748-1811)
Lord Foley, Thomas Foley (1780-1833)
Colonel George Hanger (c.1751-1824)
Lord Hertford, Francis Seymour-Ingram (1743-1822)
Lord Yarmouth, Francis Charles Seymour-Ingram (1777-1842)
Edward “Golden Ball” Hughes (1798-1863)
Earl of Jersey, George Bussey Villiers (1735-1805)
Sir John , John Lade (1759-1838)
Duke of Norfolk, Charles Howard (1746-1815)
Duke of York , Frederick Augustus Hanover (1763-1827)
Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc de Chartres, acceded 1785 as Duc d’ Orleans (1747-1793)
Louis Philippe, Duc de Chartres, acceded 1793 as Duc d’ Orleans (1773-1850)
Captain John (Jack) Willett Payne (1752-1803)
Viscount Petersham, Charles Stanhope(1780-1851)
Duke of Queensberry, William Douglas (1724-1810)
Duke of Rutland, John Henry Manners(1778-1857)
Lord Sefton, William Philip Molyneux (1772-1838)
Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour (1759-1801)
Sir Lumley St. George Skeffington Baronet (1771 – 1850)
Lord Worcester, Henry Somerset (1766-1835)
Lord Worcester, Henry Somerset (1792-1853)
Hon. Frederick Gerald aka “Poodle” Byng
Patronesses of Almacks
Emily Lamb, Lady Cowper
Amelia Stewart, Viscountess Castlereagh
Sarah Villiers, Countess of Jersey
Maria Molyneux, Countess of Sefton
Mrs. Drummond Burrell
Dorothea Lieven, Countess de Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador Countess Esterhazy, wife of the Austrian Ambassador